Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Three thrillers comprise June reading

Off the road. Back to the blog.

Three thrillers comprise my latest reading -- books 44, 45 and 46. There's no mystery here. These are all noir-ish, hard-boiled thrillers featuring a distinctive anti-hero.

The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley
Let's take them out of order and start with the book that influenced the others -- James Crumley's The Last Good Kiss. You can bet that Child and Corbett were influenced by Crumley. Even if they haven't read his work, they've read Lehane and Connelly and Pelcanos. And they have read Crumley.

In a September, 2008 interview with the Washington Post, written following Crumley's death, Pelecanos said: "If you asked us to name one book that got us jacked up to write crime novels, it would be The Last Good Kiss. He (Crumley) tried to describe the country in the wake of Vietnam. It wasn't a detective novel. It wasn't a cop novel. He showed us a crime novel could be about something bigger than the mystery itself."

There's violence and sex and a mystery here, but it's the tone that is most important. Crumley's P.I., C.W. Sughrue, is a man with a distinct code of right and wrong. He's hard drinking and has a touch of the romantic. He's the kind of guy that will take a beating silently, but get riled, to the point of murder, over the death of some dogs.

The Last Good Kiss doesn't end well. It's not meant to because Crumley's take on the world is that it's screwed up and men like Sughrue will do the best they can, but it's never enough. Ultimately, they have to walk away -- sadder, but wiser.

61 Hours by Lee Child
Child's anti-hero, Jack Reacher, would recognize Sughrue. Reacher's a bit more polished, but only a bit. Late in this novel Reacher dispatches a bad guy, who also happens to be the local sheriff, with a shot to the head. Reacher has never hesitated to execute his own brand of justice.

But I had problems with this book -- and I am a fan of Child's work. Reacher's a little late taking down the sheriff. The answer is right before him, but he doesn't recognize it until two good people die. That offended my sense of justice.

Plus, there is some doubt that Reacher survives his most recent escapade. Child's clever in how he sets this all up, even introducing a character that could conceivably (but not really) step in for Reacher in a new series. Authors get bored, I understand that, but I don't like the uncertainty created by this cliffhanger.

Besides, in a interview with journalist Craig McDonald Child notes that John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee series was "one of the great series of all time . . . He kept that going for 21 books. That would be a great target to aim at."

Reacher will be back.

The Devil's Redhead by David Corbett
I've been a fan of Corbett since reading his second novel, Done for a Dime. Such a fan, in fact, that I am flat out pissed that his most recent two books have been paperbound only. Obviously Corbett is still searching for his audience, but this decision by his publisher is inexplicable. Listen folks this guy is a great writer and a great read.

His first book, The Devil's Redhead, is a nice little love story. Really. Yes, there's a lot about moving shiploads of marijuana and the meth trade in California and the battle for supremacy of said trade, but the heart of the novel is Corbett's anti-hero, Danny Abatangelo's efforts to reunite with his lost love.

It's an exquisite tale that finds time to be instructional among the over-the-top violence.

Read all three books, but for my money Corbett is the guy.

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